On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced that it has lifted a ban imposed in the 1980s on commercial movie theaters. "As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the kingdom," Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad, the minister of culture and information, said in a statement. "We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018." The opening of cinemas is the latest reform attributed to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, including allowing women to drive next year and permits for concerts and other types of entertainment.
The move was expected, industry sources tell The Hollywood Reporter, with investors already having built theaters inside new developments. Alawwad celebrated the decision as both an economic and cultural "watershed moment" for the conservative kingdom. "By developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as [enrich] the kingdom's entertainment options," he said. Cinemas were shut down in the first place amid a wave of religious conservatism. Peter Weber
The wife of Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger currently serving 10 years in prison and facing 1,000 lashes after criticizing clerics on his site, says that her husband could soon face the death penalty on apostasy charges.
— The Independent (@Independent) March 1, 2015
Ensaf Haidar told The Independent official sources inside Saudi Arabia told her that criminal court judges want to try him for apostasy, even though charges were thrown out in 2013 after Badawi told the court he was Muslim; the evidence against him was the fact that he "liked" a Facebook page for Arab Christians. His family had been hoping that international condemnation against his sentence would pressure Saudi Arabia to release him from prison. Badawi has been flogged once, and subsequent punishments have been postponed, The Independent reports. Catherine Garcia